How Much Does a Civil Litigation Attorney Cost?

Two people reviewing cost for attorney fees in their litigation case.

Before answering how much a civil litigation attorney costs, it is helpful to discuss what exactly a civil litigation attorney does. 

Civil litigation attorneys, often referred to as civil litigators, are usually hired by private clients to represent them in a civil lawsuit. A civil lawsuit involves two or more litigants, known as parties, who have a dispute. The party bringing the lawsuit is called the plaintiff. The party defending the lawsuit is called the defendant. Resolution of the dispute often comes down to how much money one party will pay the other or whether a person is permitted or prohibited from doing a certain thing.

Civil lawsuits are different from criminal cases. In a criminal case, the city, state, or federal government brings the case against a defendant alleging that the defendant broke a law. Criminal offenses are considered to be crimes against society. The standard of proof in a criminal case is higher than in a civil lawsuit. And if the defendant is convicted, they often face the possibility of paying a fine and/or going to jail.  

Civil litigators specialize in various practice areas, including business litigation, personal injury litigation, divorce, domestic relations and family law, real estate matters, and probate litigation, to name just a few. 

The cost of hiring a civil litigation attorney and how the attorney’s fees are structured can vary considerably depending on the nature and complexity of the dispute, the lawyer’s experience, where your case is located, and the amount of time that will be required to handle it. 

Types of Fee Agreements

Hourly Fee Structures

The amount of time it will take to resolve your case is one of the primary factors that drives the cost of hiring a civil litigation attorney. One of the most common fee agreements is an hourly rate based on the number of hours the lawyer spends on your case.

Once the lawyer agrees to take your case, they will record the number of hours spent and submit a bill for your time.  Our office usually invoices clients on a monthly basis.

In most cases, the lawyer will request a retainer before starting work on the case. The lawyer will bill against the retainer until the retainer amount has been exhausted. Then the lawyer will ask the client to refresh the retainer. 

Suppose the lawyer works at a rate of $200/hour. The lawyer may request a retainer of $5,000. The lawyer will start work on your case, billing against the retainer at $200 per hour, and working for 25 hours. When the retainer amount has been used up, the lawyer will ask you to refresh the retainer. 

Contingency Fees

In some cases, the lawyer will accept your case on a contingency fee. In a contingency fee situation, the lawyer will not charge you an hourly rate. Instead, they agree to be paid a percentage of the total recovery. The lawyer will often advance case expenses. These expenses will be deducted out of the total recovery, in addition to the attorney’s fees. Attorney’s fees in contingency fee situations are often ⅓ to 40% of the total recovery, depending on the complexity and type of case. 

Contingency fee agreements are most common in personal injury cases. Suppose your lawyer resolves your case for $100,000. The lawyer will deduct between $33,333 and $40,000 for their fee. In addition, they will deduct any case expenses they advanced. Your lawyer will also pay any medical bills or liens you incurred due to the injury, and you will receive a check for whatever is left. In many cases, your lawyer will negotiate with your medical providers to reduce the amount you need to repay. 

If your lawyer’s billable hours are more than their percentage of the recovery, you will not be responsible for those charges. And if your lawyer does not recover any money on your behalf, you will not owe any attorney’s fee. 

Flat Fee Agreements

For relatively straightforward cases, you and your lawyer may agree to a “flat fee.” In a flat fee arrangement, the lawyer agrees to do a specified amount of work in exchange for a one-time payment. Flat fee arrangements are common in bankruptcy cases, and other straightforward civil cases. But if your matter becomes more complicated, the lawyer may ask you to execute a new contract to finalize the case. 

Case Expenses

In addition to the lawyer’s time, there will likely be other costs associated with the case. These may include filing fees, the cost of hiring a court reporter to take depositions, travel expenses, expert witness fees, and other costs. These expenses are usually discussed with the client first and are then deducted from the retainer amount, paid by the client, or, in a contingency fee situation, deducted from the total recovery.   

Awarding Attorney’s Fees in Civil Litigation

In rare instances, one party may be ordered to pay the attorney’s fees of another. Regardless of whether you are the one who initiates the litigation or are defending against a lawsuit, the “American Rule” is that each party is responsible for paying their own attorney’s fees. 

In North Dakota, there are generally only two instances in which the losing party will be required to pay the attorney’s fees of the other party. Those scenarios are: (1) if there is a contract that specifies which party will pay the attorney’s fees in the event of a breach of the contract; or (2) if there is a state or federal statute under which a claim is asserted that specifically calls for an award of attorney’s fees.  

Fremstad Law Moves You Forward

If you need a litigation attorney and have questions about how much it will cost, contact Fremstad Law today to schedule a consultation to discuss your situation. We will ask questions to learn about your case, and discuss possible fee arrangements and how we can help.